With federal funding now in place, construction is expected to begin early next year on a new bridge across the Okanagan River channel in Penticton.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt announced Saturday the federal government would contribute $2.4 million towards the Satikw Crossing project being undertaken by the Penticton Indian Band.
The bridge at Green Avenue will provide access from Channel Parkway to 60 hectares of land next to the airport that’s expected to become home to new retail, commercial and industrial space, and possibly a hotel.
“What I like about this project (is) at the bottom of it, this is really about ensuring the reconciliation we talk about is actually taking place in real terms,” Valcourt said following the announcement outside the PIB school.
He acknowledged part of that reconciliation means restoring access to land presently used for cattle grazing that was cut off when the Okanagan River was channelized in the 1950s.
”This could create, within the next 10 years, about 700 jobs within the area,” added Valcourt, whose ministry also chipped in $500,000 for design and engineering of the bridge.
Chief Jonathan Kruger said afterwards that although he initially expected construction to begin in September, it had to be pushed back to avoid interfering with a large salmon run expected this fall in the Okanagan River.
He now expects the project to go to tender in November, with construction starting early in January and the first retails stores open “within a year or two.”
“I think we have everything in order to make this thing a reality,” said Kruger, whose band is also contributing an unspecified amount to the project.
“The designs are done, the environmental (assessment) is done. It’s ready to go.”
He said opening up access to the lands will generate lease income for the locatee owners and property tax revenue for the band, moving it “one step closer towards self-sufficiency.”
“This is going to be huge for our community,” Kruger said.
Locatee owners, he added, are working directly with a marketing firm to find companies looking to get into the new space, but the chief said he’s been told five anchor tenants are already in place.
“The rest of them are waiting to see if the bridge is going to be a reality, but now it’s coming, so the phone’s probably going to be going off the hook,” Kruger added.
“It’s going to create opportunities, not only for the Penticton Indian Band, but for everybody in the whole South Okanagan region.”
It should also give Penticton residents a reason to shop at home, said Andrew Jakubeit, who represented city council at Saturday’s announcement.
“Whether we have big-box stores or commercial or industrial buildings, it will bring economic vibrancy to both our communities,” he said.
“It’s going to help create Penticton as an economic hub, retail destination, and kind of slow that flow of dollars that are traditionally going north.”
The federal contribution will come from Aboriginal Affairs’ Community Opportunity Readiness Program, which helps First Nations get economic development projects off the ground.